Since last week, I’ve finished another 17 (!) six inch squares for Crochetlist‘s April charity challenge. These will eventually become blankets for Arizona children through the Binky Patrol. I can definitely see how people get excited by granny a day projects. Once you get on a roll, it is pretty hard to stop!
True story: When I first ordered this booklet used on Amazon, it arrived missing about 6 pages in the middle. I was fuming! But Amazon promptly refunded it and I was able to find another used copy for the same price a few days later.
I had to make some modifications to almost every pattern to get the squares to be six inches. You can find the details on my project pages.
I was originally planning to mail these out on Saturday, but I found some awesome bullion stitch patterns online last night, so I thought I’d make a few of those to share in my year of projects post on Sunday. Now that I’m extending my deadline until Monday, there is time to make even more grannies!
I had a lot of fun making these and going through all of my granny books looking for the “perfect” grannies. (You can read reviews of most of my granny books here.) And, so far I used up about 2-1/2 skeins of stash yarn. Every little bit helps!
I’m really excited today to share an interview with Dr. Carol Ventura, the tapestry crochet master featured in Crochet Master Class. I can’t think of another crocheter who is as associated with a particular technique as Carol is with tapestry crochet. Carol first learned about tapestry crochet as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. While there, she purchased several bags, and after returning to the U.S., she unraveled one to learn about its design. Since that time, she has been hooked on tapestry crochet! (You can read more about Carol’s introduction to tapestry crochet in theseinterviews.)
UC: What originally inspired you to begin designing your own patterns and writing crochet books?
Carol: It was/is the best way to share tapestry crochet with others. (UC comment: Carol shares a lot of great information about tapestry crochet on her website and blog, including this post about the design of the bag featured in Crochet Master Class, and this recent post about creating tapestry crochet graphs from photos.)
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
UC: What do you enjoy about working with the tapestry crochet technique?
Carol: I love that it’s portable and doesn’t require lots of expensive tools or a lot of space.
UC: Your tapestry crochet books include not just patterns and tutorials, but also detailed information about the historical and cultural significance of the technique. What was the development process like for these books – was it similar for all three or did it change over time?
Carol: I’m an art historian by trade, so it was logical for me to include a little bit about tapestry crochet history in my Tapestry Crochet and More Tapestry Crochet books. Each book stands alone and compliments one another. I didn’t include any history in my Bead & Felted Tapestry Crochet book because I had already covered that topic in the first two books.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your library (besides your own, of course)?
Carol: I have a huge library of thousands of books about many topics – but no favorites. I love them all! (UC comment: I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to sneak a peak into the crochet section in Carol’s library!)
(Edited to add: UC comment: You can read more about this afghan and Carol’s experiment with felting it here.)
UC: Do you have any favorite craft or design blogs or websites to share?
UC: If this isn’t too personal, can you talk a bit about your insulating concrete form (ICF) house? It seems like a fascinating project and I’d be interested in learning more about your decision to design and build this style of eco-friendly housing.
Carol: I was inspired by houses in Central America and Europe that are built to last for many generations from stone, brick, and concrete. I was also inspired by reading Mother Earth Newsarticles about earth sheltered homes during the late 1970s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. I couldn’t afford to have the concrete walls poured in the usual manner, though. While watching TV, I found out about ICFs – the perfect, affordable solution.
The house is still not finished, although we’re living in it. We started construction 10 years ago – before “earth friendly” and “green building” became popular – and people back then would look at us like we were nuts for building such a different type of house! The response is better now. I created several web pages about its construction to help others avoid some of the problems we encountered.
It is still difficult to find basic information about some of the various steps involved and my ignorance cost us tens of thousands of dollars! I understood that we had to plan ahead because it was difficult to install the utilities, but there were other things that I didn’t anticipate. If only I knew then what I know now!
Thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule for an interview, Carol!
A few weeks ago, I taught my first crochet class for a group of kids (as part of a series of classes) through the Queens Library. I’ve taught crochet classes with kids and adults combined before, and I’ve also taught one-on-one lessons for kids. In preparation for the class, I decided to check out Teach a Group of Kids to Crochet by Kay Meadors.
There are several nice things about the book. It is filled with great color pictures of multicultural girls and boys having fun while learning to crochet and wearing samples of simple crocheted projects. The book includes many close up, step-by-step hand photos of all of the basic stitches for both righties and lefties. The back cover has ruler marks on three edges so it doubles as a gauge ruler. And there are 15 projects that kids would definitely like to wear and use in vibrant (or camouflage, for the boys) colors.
I must say I was disappointed. This disappointment has little to do with Kay Meadors, or with Leisure Arts, and mostly stems from my own assumptions about what the book would include. (You know what they say about making assumptions!) Since I haven’t found many reviews of the book online, I thought I would write up something very detailed so that you will know what you are in for if you buy this book.
I was under the impression that Leisure Arts allowed teachers to make copies from any page this book. I thought that by purchasing it, I would save myself hours of recreating handouts I’ve made for adults to be more kid friendly. In reality, you are only authorized to make copies of 2 pages from the book. These 2 pages are a stitch guide including a single photo (one each for right- and left-handers) of each basic crochet stitch. I did attempt to copy these 2 pages, but the combination of the hand (a fair skinned flesh tone) and the font color (light blue) made it nearly impossible to make a legible black and white copy. I tried color copies, too, using my home four-in-one printer, but I wasn’t able to get much that was readable. (I ended up using my standard handouts for adults in the class. That worked out, since only the teenagers were interested in handouts anyway.)
Inside of the book, Kay says, “It would be helpful if each student purchased a copy of this book so that they have the written projects available outside of class. Projects may not be copied for students to take home.” At the same time, she suggests that prospective teachers approach schools, and children’s groups that are organized through churches, Scouting, and 4-H organizations. I may be biased since I live in New York City, and school and library programs here can’t charge students for materials, and many local Scouting groups frown upon additional costs being charged to families. Perhaps if you are teaching in a wealthier community, asking each student to purchase a $14.95 book would be a viable option.
On the other hand, asking students to buy this book would be akin to telling students to buy the instructor’s version of a textbook. The first 15 pages of introduction, FAQ, and tips are targeted at the teacher, and there are “Teacher’s Notes” on just about every other page thereafter. Without this teacher information, the book could be significantly shorter (and therefore, cheaper) for the student.
Now that we’ve established that unless you plan to have commercial color copies of the 2 page stitch guide made, or instruct each student to buy the book, Teach a Group of Kids to Crochet doesn’t have much value as a classroom teaching aid, let’s look at how it works as a stand alone teacher’s guide.
Kay does give some tips for first time teachers (such as reminders to start with hands-on demonstrations so the kids won’t get bored) but she doesn’t really address specifically the unique issues related to teaching children. I was hoping to find suggestions for dealing with the variable levels of motor skill development and reading skills at different ages, working with a mixed age group, and incorporating parents and helpers into the class. There wasn’t any such information, but I did get some of the general information on teaching that I previously learned when becoming a Craft Yarn Councilcertified crochet teacher and instructor.
The patterns section gave me some good ideas for simple projects for children. Kay has written the patterns in full words rather than using pattern abbreviations, which I think is appropriate for children. However, I think several of the patterns are too long and detailed for most children (e.g., a 3 page pattern for pillow covers).
Overall, the book suffers from a kind of identity crisis. It is written to look like a book for kids, with big pictures, vibrant colors, and wacky fonts. But about half of the content is intended for the teacher. It might have been better to write two shorter companion books – one for the teacher and one for students.
I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars. If you are a new teacher and will be working with kids, it has some helpful, general crochet teaching tips. The book has many simple and fun project ideas. The book is attractive looking and might be helpful to have in class. If you are teaching in a community where asking students to buy a book would be appropriate, you might find it a useful student workbook. (I would actually recommend having the students buy a book written for kids instead.) If you’ve been teaching for a while, you won’t find much new information here, and might be better off buying a book written for kids to share in class.
If you are shaky on your own crochet skills and plan to teach one or two younger relatives to crochet, I think this would be a 5 star book. It could remind you of all the basics (with plenty of full color photos) and give you both plenty of patterns to work on together.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Melissa: My sister and I were raised by a single mother, and each day after school, we would walk to the hair salon where she worked and spend at least 2 hours waiting in a tiny breakroom for her to finish her shift. One day, a woman who would come in each week to have her hair set took pity on my sister and me. She invited us to take crochet lessons from her. Once a week, we would walk to her house after school, and sit at her highly polished dining room table learning to work with a hook and thread. My first project was a heart doily that I entered in our county fair that year. The doily received a large purple grand champion ribbon and though I haven’t made another doily since, it got me hooked on crochet.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Melissa: In the late 80’s, when I was in my early teens, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of crochet garment patterns that were what I was looking for. This was before the internet was in most households, and as I lived in a very rural area, the closet big box store was almost 2 hours away and a yarn store wasn’t even on my radar. That’s when I started creating garments for myself, designing on the hook so to speak.
UC: You’re an avid reader and crafter. Many crafters (like me!) struggle to find time for reading. How do you balance your love of both hooks and books?
Melissa: Great question! Our family is rather outside of the norms in the approach we take to life. We have always started getting our kids ready for bed at 7pm. When they were younger, this included reading to them; as a result, even though they are now 9 and almost 15, they don’t balk at getting ready for bed at 7pm because they are avid readers, too! This allows all of us to be in our beds by 8 at the latest and we all read for an hour or so. My husband was not a reader when we married, but he is now. So during the day, I hook and at night, I book. But [while writing] Austentatious Crochet, it was difficult to stay as balanced in my approach to life, and to find time to read books that were not related to Austen research.
UC: Austentatious Crochet features 36 projects inspired by the work of Jane Austen. What was the design process like for this book?
Melissa: Usually a stitch pattern inspires me, or a skein of yarn, but the process of designing for this book was sketches, followed by my finding what stitch pattern and yarn would produce the look I was envisioning for that design. I have no shortage of ideas, but time to put them all into reality is difficult for me to find. There were over 50 sketches that I painstakingly whittled down to 40 designs. 4 were not included because the pictures were not up to the level I was looking for. But I can be very indecisive. It was difficult for me to choose which of my designs would make it into the book.
UC: What is your favorite crochet book in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Melissa: Everywhere! I have a large office box filled with scraps of paper, sketch sheets, and photos of design possibilities that may not see the light of day if I don’t find the time. For example, I’ll be at a restaurant and see a woman wearing a shirt that perhaps has an open back with some sort of motif across the opening that I would love to translate into crochet, so I’ll sketch it on whatever paper I can scrounge out of my purse. My kids have bemoaned the fact that in our vacation pictures is often a stray picture of carpeting in the hotel hallway as either the colorway or the motif struck me visually. When I come up with a book idea, or a creative name for a design to made sometime in the future, it all goes in the box.
UC: Has teaching and designing crochet patterns impacted your personal crafting? If so, how?
Melissa: Most definitely. My daughter complains that I never make anything for her anymore and she is right. I make what is commissioned in the size asked for. Squeezing in time to make gifts for others is difficult as well. But I am slowly getting back to that and creating time for what I love to do versus what I consider to be a chore.
UC: Do you have any favorite crafts or book blogs/websites you’d like to share?
Melissa: The Republic of Pemberley is a huge resource for Jane Austen fans. I always enjoy reading Dora Ohrenstein’s Crochet Insider as she travels quite a bit and covers international crochet, as well as crochet history. I don’t have a lot of time to spend online unfortunately, which is sad as it is huge resource and mostly untapped for me.
UC: What goals do you have for the next year?
Melissa: Well, I want this year to be more than just about survival. As I did all the designs for Austentatious Crochet, all the writing, and all the production (hiring the photographer, models, stylists, scouting locations, etc.), it took a huge chunk of my time away from my family, so I have been scaling back. I want to cultivate more relationships. I need to become a better networker and delegater. But even so, I would like to get more designs out there as I have so many ideas just sitting in ‘the box’, but unless I can learn to delegate, that is unlikely to happen. It all seems to come back to there are simply not enough hours in the day. Don’t all of us mothers feel that way?
UC comment: I can’t speak as a mother, but I know I feel the same way! Thanks so much, Melissa, for taking time from your schedule to stop by for an interview!
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